Skip to main content

Intel’s Xeon 7500-Series CPUs Target Enterprise Computing

Introduction

Intel's March 30 release of the Xeon 7500-series is significant in more ways than one. Publicly, the company is boasting of taking its 30-year-old x86 architecture into new ground--the mission-critical space previously dominated by mainframes and RISC-based systems like Sun's SPARC and IBM's POWER processors.

The Xeon 7500 is not intended as a file and print or Web server. You can use a low-power Xeon 3400 or even a Core i7 for that. The 7500 is aimed at the high-performance market of servers that must stay up and running with no downtime and have the capacity to handle thousands of simultaneous users. It's new territory for x86, but not for Intel.

Intel is already in that space with its other architecture, the EPIC architecture in the Itanium. EPIC is not technically RISC in design, but is frequently lumped into that category. While Intel has not said publicly that the Xeon 7500 will replace the Itanium, and no one is expecting it to in the short run, the Xeon 7500 does show that Intel has the ability to continue to evolve the x86 architecture and move it up the performance food chain.

The Xeon 7500 family, developed under the codename "Nehalem-EX," is a monster of a chip, with 2.3 billion transistors used in eight cores connected with high-speed interconnects, four very fast memory channels, and Hyper-Threading, allowing each core to run two threads at a time. It adds more than 20 features that have been in the Itanium for some time, giving the Xeon 7500-series levels of performance and reliability other Xeons can't match.

The Itanium has never been a big seller for Intel, but the few machines that were sold were absolutely valuable. Itanium was used in servers that defined "mission-critical." They had to run 24x7 and not be brought down by a crash. Itanium servers were usually multi-million dollar beasts that ran multi-petabyte Oracle databases or line-of-business applications that had to always run.

This meant something known as RAS: reliability, availability and serviceability. The Xeon 7500 has more than 20 new RAS features normally found in Itanium processors, marking the first time they have been used in a Xeon.

The most significant among them is Machine Check Architecture (MCA) Recovery, a feature that allows the CPU to work with the operating system to isolate errors that would otherwise crash the machine and keep the machine operating. Other features include memory corruption protection like SMI Lane Failover to handle memory errors and QPI self-healing for errors during interprocessor communication.

  • surda
    even though i dont read much about server processors but this just sounds super fast, i like how it has alot of error stages checking so that it stays 24/7 without crashing, but do they really need all that speed for servers? i just gotta say hardware technology is moving very fast these days.

    nice article btw thank you.
    Reply
  • anamaniac
    These chips are absolute beasts! They do run at low frequencies however. (But would you want 130W chips in a 4P/8P box?)
    4 memory channels, 16 DIMMs per CPU, damn. I imagine you'd spend more on the 16GB DDR3 DIMMs than you would the processors though.
    Also nice to hear that these scale well in 4P/8P boxes.

    But I must ask, why are the 7500 chips in 45nm? Is the 32nm process still too immature to make a 2 billion transistor chip with any decent level of success?

    Assuming a 8P box, all CPU's clocked to 3.5GHz (~120GFlop per CPU, ~1TFlops total), you could run a few games purely in software mode and still get good performance. Damn.
    Reply
  • "In the course of one week, two separate events signaled what may be the end of Intel's grand experiment with RISC architecture. Intel released the Xeon 7500-series processor family, containing many features found in the Itanium, a RISC-based design developed in partnership with Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft ended its support of Itanium."

    When did Itanium change from being a VLIW architecture to being a RISC architecture?... It was designed to overcome some RISC architecture limitations of the day. XScale was Intel's big RISC mistake...
    Reply
  • RazberyBandit
    I think it's just poor wording. Both portions of that sentence refer to the Xeon-7500. Try it this way:

    "In the course of one week, two separate events signaled what may be the end of Intel's grand experiment with RISC architecture. Intel released the Xeon 7500-series processor family, a RISC-based design developed in partnership with Hewlett-Packard containing many features found in the Itanium, and Microsoft ended its support of Itanium."

    There, all better!
    Reply
  • How necessary is it to have the error correction circuitry? If it's that important and the normal desktop and server architecture doesn't have it then are we not all accumulating errors in our data and code? With what frequency does this happen in the real world - and is the machine check architecture actually important, or just a bullet point for a sales brochure?
    Reply
  • gglawits
    AMD's Magny-Cours is the better value proposition.
    Compare the AMD 6128 (8 cores, 2.0 GHz, $266 list price) against the Xeon X7550 (8 cores, 2.0 GHz, $2729 list price) and you'll see what I mean. The XEON cost more than 10 times as much! Sure it's faster, but not 10 times faster. Not even 2 times faster.
    Reply
  • cjl
    gglawitsAMD's Magny-Cours is the better value proposition.Compare the AMD 6128 (8 cores, 2.0 GHz, $266 list price) against the Xeon X7550 (8 cores, 2.0 GHz, $2729 list price) and you'll see what I mean. The XEON cost more than 10 times as much! Sure it's faster, but not 10 times faster. Not even 2 times faster.You clearly didn't understand a word of this article.
    Reply
  • KlamathBFG
    Also consider the applications that can have their life extended with a new scaled up limit and compare that to the cost of re-engineering those applications and suddenly $2729 a processor sounds cheap $27,900 or in some cases $272,900 would still be cheap.
    Reply
  • idisarmu
    gglawitsAMD's Magny-Cours is the better value proposition.Compare the AMD 6128 (8 cores, 2.0 GHz, $266 list price) against the Xeon X7550 (8 cores, 2.0 GHz, $2729 list price) and you'll see what I mean. The XEON cost more than 10 times as much! Sure it's faster, but not 10 times faster. Not even 2 times faster.
    You sir, are an idiot. RAM is MUCH more expensive than these CPUs. Even 16gb of desktop DDR3 memory costs about $800. Now these mobos generally have more than 4 dimms per cpu- more like 8, so $1600 for RAM makes a $266 CPU seem really really cheap. Now server memory is always more expensive, so I think it would make perfect sense to spend $2000 more in order to have a system with fewer bottlenecks.
    Reply
  • ta152h
    Why comment on the Itanium when you don't know what it is? This doesn't signal the writing on the wall, only 6% of Itanium buyers were using Windows.

    It still has reliability features far exceeding the Nehalem-EX, and they are still greatly supported by the largest computer maker in the world, which, by the way, also was the original designer.

    It's not going anywhere.
    Reply